I have three brothers. I share a mother with two of them and a father with the other.
To be fair, I share much more than a mother with Jay and Creed. We were raised together. We share a childhood, a family history, and memories that go far beyond genetics and blood relations.
It hurts my heart that Jay’s story is not here.
It hurts me more that our story – his and mine – is not here, or anywhere, really.
Jay was my first sibling from either parent. When he came into the world six years after me, I went from an only child, shuffling back and forth between two parents, to the big sister in a family. He almost died that day, and I may not have ever known what it felt like to be part of something that gave you roots no matter where you roamed.
I’d like to tell you stories of him coming home from the hospital, small and precious as I imagine all newborns certainly are. But no matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to bring that picture to mind.
I remember him as a toddler, with his thick curly hair and strong pointy chin, like mine. I remember him dancing around in his Bears’ jersey in front of the football game on TV. I remember him learning to ride his bike, absolutely terrified of my mom letting go of the seat – in much the same way my own son resisted his independence on two wheels. I remember when he got his feelings hurt in kindergarten because some big kid was bullying him, and how he would cling to the teacher’s side during recess. I remember him trailing along beside my best friend and I as he followed us home from school every day.
His eyes danced back then and in his toothy grin you could see glimpses of his soft heart.
And in his eyes you could also see the adoration he held for a man I would grow to hate, his father.
We do not share a father, although there was a time when we both called the same man “Dad”. The more vile my memories of that man grow, the more doting he appeared to become towards his first born son.
I remember Jay being very innocent, oblivious to the cruelty his father was capable of. As he got older, I could see the guilt line my brother’s face as he tried to reconcile the love he had for a man he heard such horrible stories about.
Maybe that’s where it comes from – the distance between us.
It’s hard to say, really, because it’s been there for so long. While Creed and I have always shared a remarkable closeness, there has been a wall between Jay and I for as long as I can remember. Neither of us can name it, although he jokes about Creed being my “favorite”.
“I love you Britter,” he’ll tell me. And when I smile and put my arm around him and assure him that “I love you too honey,” I think we both feel that there’s something missing in the exchange.
My history with him is blurred and bittersweet.
The memories of sitting beside a wrestling mat on Saturday mornings in high school gyms, pounding and screaming and praying for his safety, are mixed with the arguments and pain as I raged against his choices and he recoiled from my judgment. Over the years, it has been hard to ignore the worry and disappointment in my eyes as I watch him struggle through self destructive patterns and he avoids looking at me while he reassures me that everything will be fine from now on.
We’ve been stuck in this pattern for so long, he and I, trying to pretend that the distance isn’t there.
I love him, more than he knows. My worry and fear comes from that love. And I know he loves me too. No doubt his evasiveness and empty reassurances comes from his own love, at least in part. We look past the distance and play act at being as close as we wish we were, as if admitting we’re not would be a betrayal of the love we’re harboring for one another.
But it remains awkward and bumbling.
I long to explain to him how much I hope for his happiness. I fantasize about opening myself up fully to that hope again, abandoning my new found need to protect myself from disappointment. I envision the wall between us crumbling and the floodgates opening until the old facades have been washed away and we can finally be family. Really, truly, family – the way we each have known it with other people.
But for now, I just wait. I watch his life unfold and wait for an opening some day, when neither one of us will have a need for defenses and casual small talk.
Happy Birthday little brother. I love you. So, so very much.